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Hours before US President  Barack Obama’s historic speech at the University of Queensland in Brisbane last Saturday, tourism industry leaders from around the globe wrapped up a forum to discuss  ways to promote a strong, sustainable and balanced growth in tourism while addressing the urgent challenges brought on by global warming.  And, the forum’s agenda was on par with the environmental message delivered the  next day by the US President.

The G20 Sustainable Leaders Forum, held in association with the Brisbane Global Café initiative, pre-empted President Obama’s comments that ‘combating climate change cannot be the work of governments alone.’

In his opening comments, CEO of EarthCheck and Chair of the forum, Stewart Moore, said that the tourism industry – which is the world’s fastest growing export industry – has a growing environmental footprint that needs to be sustainably managed.

“Tourism is a $1.4 trillion industry globally and it generates $36 billion in Australia alone. And, yes, it does bring a footprint,” he told the invited guests who ranged from hoteliers to airline representatives, government officials, academics and tourism community leaders.

“The very environmental values and cultural assets that attract tourists to our destinations need to be protected and responsibly managed. The tourism industry and its operators are key to creating this change. We cannot wait for governments to act.”

Managing Director of the Great Barrier Reef’s Lady Elliot Island resort and forum panellist, Peter Gash, told the audience that “if we want to pass our natural treasures onto  future generations, we need to manage these assets now.”

“My guests don’t come here (to Lady Elliot Island) for a class or a lesson. They come to relax. But when they leave, they become advocates for the need to protect our environment …Sustainability has to be about partnership,” he added. “We can’t do anything unless we do it together. Sustainability doesn’t mean throwing money at the problem, it’s about managing and educating effectively.”

The key messages from the G20 Sustainable Leaders Forum will be summarized over the coming days and provided to GSTC, ITP, PATA, WTO and other tourism groups around the world who are working to promote sustainable principles..